Monday, 20 October 2014


Is it just me? Am I the only one who can smell the past? Sometimes even taste it? Is that what nostalgia is - a flood of sensory perceptions reminiscent of youth, childhood and past emotions? Smells, feelings, tastes and experiences all encapsulated in that one word - nostalgia. 

Just recently, I have been smelling days on the beach, my first sea fishing trips on Deal pier; I can taste the briny air, feel the cold breeze onshore from the North Sea side of the coast and I remember the first crab, the first fish, the lugworm wrapped in newspaper and the smell of the oil on the reel. 

I can feel the warm sun and the smell of seaweed on the days we used to spin or feather for mackerel, learning to cast as far as possible with our Abu reels and fibre glass rods. We learned to oil and adjust the reels so that we got maximum casting distance free of the dreaded birds nest that would stop us fishing for half an hour at a time while we picked and fussed at the mess in front of us. We dressed in our mothers' (washed) tights to keep the cold from our legs on days when the wind blew through you but the cod came in. or the still, bright days when the cod stayed away but the whiting arrived in shoals. We hated the days when numerous, inedible pouting stole our expensive bait, knowing that we wouldn't catch anything but staying on just in case. 

The promenade at Deal saw us standing together as sentinels behind rods that pointed skywards like weapons of the gods while the sea shifted the shingle soporifically in front of us. 

And sometimes the cod came. 

We loved those days, to take a couple of codling home as trophies of our diligence passing them over to our mothers for approval and praise - but not cooking. Nope, that was our job, rough filleted and coated in bread crumbs before being shallow fried in a pan - nothing fancy in the 70's and 80's. Or large whiting, butterfly filleted and shallow fried again in a coating of flour. Remember, we used butter for frying back then, and served with mash and peas, or chips and peas - or just peas.  

We had a shrimping net then too. All of us, everyone I knew, had a shrimping net of varying efficacy and repair. We would wait for low tide and cycle to the rockier end of the sea front and after a long sweep of the shallow water avoiding rocks, metal bars and broken groyne pieces we would disgorge the contents of our nets into buckets of sea water which we would then transport on the handlebars of our bikes back home. 

One sunny Saturday morning, my brother and I arrived back home with our pails of shaken shrimps and set up the large pan of water on my Mother's pristine cooker hob in her sparkling, sun filled kitchen. 

That's another thing, by the way - in all my memories, my Mam's kitchen is sunny. Always. I can't actually think of it as dark or dull - is that nostalgia? It surely can't be reality, I first heard Bohemian Rhapsody in that kitchen;  Shine On You Crazy Diamond; Houses Of The Holy. I did homework there, hid swede under mashed potatoes and First read Tolkien over lonely, after work dinners - but it was always sunny. I asked my brother how he saw the kitchen in his mind and the word he used was 'dull'! Odd isn't it?

Anyway, the large pan was on the gas hob and my brother - then in his early teens - quickly ladled all the shrimps into it. 

They immediately and with great energy jumped back out again - he had forgotten to turn on the gas, the water was cold and the shrimps didn't like the fresh water  - we were finding shrimps all over the kitchen for weeks. Neither Mam nor Dad were much impressed. 

We had so many good times right next to, above or on the sea. We had bad days too - severe cold which threatened our health, wet days when the rain was relentless and days when the fish were any where else but where we were. 

But the good times remain; the 10 pound cod caught in a sprat glut; the days of mackerel by the dozen caught under high mackerel clouds of summer skies; the smell of the lightly frying dabs cooked in seasoned butter and the slices of buttered bread that accompanied all our meals. 

The unwieldy, one piece 15 foot fibre glass rods that we had to keep in stairwells, the hours spent crook backed over our reels taking then apart and putting them back again to gain an extra yard or two on a cast.  Backs broken from digging lugworm from the claggy, sticky, sucking mud of Pegwell Bay and the hours spent trying to keep them alive and fresh before our trips.

Would we change anything? No, of course not. Even the gloomy trudge home in soaking wet clothes after long, fishless hours under rain sparkled street lamps resonate with a euphoric feeling of times well had, friendships endorsed and manhood attained. Change it? Never, wish for it all over again - oh yes.

Monday, 28 July 2014


Beautifully made. 

Fishing isn't just about catching fish you know.

Oh, no - it's about many, many other things - including everything looking just right. I mean, you can have your trophy shots - and most of us have - but for many of us things have to look - well, perfect.  

My two favourite quarries are trout in the summer months and pike through the winter - though with a new job I'm afraid I've not been doing much of either lately. 

Trout fishing for me is all about naturalness. While my friend Harry hurls his fluorescent blobs of sparkling man made fibres whistling perilously close to my ears accompanied by gun like cracks as the line whips through the air and turning the water all about to foam  I much prefer the studied, protracted business of carefully inching well made flies through the meniscus. My creations are crafted from, fur and feather and come complete with eyes, elbows and arseholes as another friend, Kim once commented. 

Harry usually catches more than me. 

But, see, that's not the point, my fish mean more, they are caught aesthetically - with finesse and feeling, my fish have been duped by close copies of their usual food items, not angered into snatching at an invasive fluro green monstrosity that looks like nothing they've ever seen before. 

I don't suppose the fish care much though - they've still been caught. 

When pike fishing I love to use floats where I can, not just because they offer the best indication of interest but also because they just look so good. There's nothing quite as exciting when fishing to see the first movement of the float because you just know that something is down there! However, when the float is homemade with love, attention and time it just seems to make a difference. I don't know why - it just does. 

Cane! Now that's a whole other subject!

I came across the floats in the top picture at a clients house. She makes flies and floats and the ones here - which she very kindly gave me - are made out of natural materials; there's a quails egg, Kent cob nut, crows quill and pieces of natural wood, varnished over and over again before being carefully painted and then varnished some more. What a gift - made with patience and care and given with kindness. 

And I'd much rather look at a float than sit behind a bank full of matching rods with baits flung to the horizon in full ambush mode. It's interesting, it's exciting and there's always something to see. If you're waiting for alarms to go off - and there is definitely a place for alarms and gadgets - it's too easy to miss...well everything. If alarms are set then you can do other stuff; reading, watching TV (yes, really...), make up rigs and sleep. If you're watching a float you can't do any of that - you have to look, and when you look, well then you see. Bubbles around the float, signs of activity, signs of life - signs of's interesting! Using a float in all forms of fishing seems to keep the anticipation vital, real and ever present. Fishing with a float also keeps you active - and that's usually a good thing. 

Though I have to say when I recently fished the Kennet I appeared to have forgotten how to long trot - out of practise I suppose. But if you've ever seen an expert with a float - my friend Crump and his centre pin instantly spring to mind - it's a joy to watch.  But I caught my mid double pike on the day by leap frogging with two rods and watching the floats and the morning just flew by. And because I watched the floats I saw the activity which presaged the take. I saw the fry leaping away from the marauding pike; I saw the water move, bulge as the fish below shifted its own space about it. I saw the float bob, dip and dance; and I knew exactly when to strike, when to lean into the fish as it turned the bait and moved off because I knew exactly what was happening.

A home-made float seems to make the catch more...well, valuable.
Aesthetically, floats are wonderfully pleasing, but they're also effective too. So too are my flies when trout fishing. Hairs ear, rabbit fur, pheasant tail, peacock hurl, duck feather, partridge, squirrel tail and deer fur - all have their place in fly tying. Using these natural - ingredients, if you like - not only pleases me but also interests the fish. Those little bits of barely seen fur, feather and hide make realistic and effective baits, lures and attractors. I do know that fluorescent colours have their place, but I do love catching fish with natural materials where I can. Sometimes it takes more perseverance - much more sometimes - but if catching fish isn't the only aim, the only goal, try using realistic flies, try using floats and try lure fishing for pike with baits that react naturally (a whole other subject in itself) and see if it adds to your satisfaction. It might, and you might see and feel a whole lot more too.

A small, beautiful fish - but that's a home-made fly, that is..

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Sixty Years

Still snogging after 60 years...?

My Mam and Dad recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and we managed to persuade Her Majesty to send them an Anniversary Card. Well, we went online anyway. 

It was a nice surprise for my Mam, but I think my Dad - nobody's fool even in his eighties - knew all about it since I asked for a copy of their wedding certificate in order to validate my request. I don't think he even considered that I might have been authenticating my legitimacy.

Their anniversary has made me think a lot about the period for which they have been married - sixty years is a long time and there are so many things that are different now, so many changes have taken place over that half century plus, things that we now take for granted still cause surprises and joy for my parents. iPads, Recording TV programs, £8 a gallon petrol, mobile phones and stair lifts to name a few...

There were no TVs when my parents got married, you read a paper or listened to the Home Service (Mam and Dad were both in the Armed Services) for news. You HAD to go to the cinema to watch a movie  - but that was ok and owning a car was a rarity - certainly families never had two or three. 

Great Grandchildren....

Was life simpler then...? Well perhaps, but there were hardly any human rights, life was cheaper, shorter and with far less leisure time or activities to fill it. People read more, chatted more, walked more and ate less. 

As kids we were allowed to play outside all day, my first wrist watch was bought so that I would know when to go home for tea, and I did what I was told to do or I was punished. At school we were caned or slippered for serious crimes like smoking or skiving - none of that these days of course, the punishment, I mean - school children are still recalcitrant. Later, in the sixties, we got our first TV at home - black and white naturally - and German! I grew up watching the Banana Bunch and The Monkees dubbed into German and the actors' real voices were never heard due to the dubbing. It's still a little odd hearing Micky Dolenz actually talking in English. Man In a Suitcase, Fireball XL5 and The Prisoner - all in German and in someone else's voice! I never knew for years that they all sounded completely different in real life - I assumed that each actor/singer/cartoon character did their own dubbing!

Sixty years later my parents have a much more relaxed attitude to life and to their leisure time - I think life has been good to them generally, and, let's face it, they've been married for more years than I've been alive, so they've been through all the things that could have separated them - barring one - and have come out the other side, still together and still very much in love. I wish them both so much more than I can give them - my Father is still my hero, my Mother still my confidant and as gorgeous to me now as I ever thought her when I was a kid, and I am very aware that at 56 years old I am lucky to have both my parents to talk to and share things with. It's a privilege that I think about every day.

So, if you do read this and one or both of your parents are still with you, try and be as thankful as they undoubtedly are - it's a blessing we can only regret and never rectify once it's too late.


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Dublin - The Craic

Old friendships last in Ireland...

It's not often one returns from a hectic two day exhibition feeling exhilerated - usually the feelings are tired, worn out, weary and looking forward to a few days of catch up - yet after our trips to Ireland we always seem to be invigorated and ready to face the world again.

I suppose one could put this down to Guinness, perhaps the sea air from the crossing or the change being in another country brings. I think that we put it down to our friends from Ireland who always appear to be so pleased to see us, our acquaintances and Frankie's fans who unfailingly make us feel welcome - and of course the Craic.

To borrow from Wiki:
"Craic" (/ʔkræk/ krak), or "crack", is a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, particularly prominent in Ireland.[1][2][3] It is often used with the definite article – the craic.[1] The word has an unusual history; the English crack was borrowed into Irish as craic in the mid-20th century and the Irish spelling was then reborrowed into English.[1] Under either spelling, the term has great cultural currency and significance in Ireland.

I'm not at all sure about the word 'reborrowed' but that's Wikipedia for you.  Anyway, the sentiment is about right, it doesn't actually cover any one thing - it's about the whole deal, the entire package of friendship, company, food, drink, entertainment, ambiance (a mix of cultures, languages and etimology never did any harm - honest!) and atmosphere - or - the craic.

It's great that one word can cover a whole range of actions, feelings and environments but that's exactly what happened on our first evening back in Dublin after two years away. We met up with our friends at the Lemon Tree and immediately we were comfortable, deep in conversation with great drink and food instantly at hand and with a room full of friendly people, any one of whom we felt might interact with us at any time and in an equally friendly manner. It was an amazingly comfortable feeling. 

Only in Ireland though. I can rarely recall feeling that at ease in mixed company anywhere else; and even during the exhibition people would treat us as long list friends or family - even complete strangers. The Irish attitude is that we probably are all related anyway and with a surname like mine it's a given. I'm the Plastic Paddy though - an appellation I treasure, given to me years ago by some very dear friends. "Plastic" in this instance also means many things, a wannabe Irishman, a long, lost ancestor, third generation, English sounding, not really Irish, Kerryman. That's me - all of the above - but not the reason that Ireland is a wonderful country to visit. 

It's a beautiful place: flat rolling fields, heather covered mountains, water everywhere and a heritage that could take several lifetimes to explore. All this and wonderful bars where you're made to feel instantly at home, locals who make your welfare their concern and food delivered to the bar if you can't stagger to the restaurant. 

Directions that start with "Well.... You can't get there from here...", a stone that needs kissing if you're going to want the charm, a beer as black as night with a white foam head - yet a music culture second to none, art and dance as intriguing as any, a love of horses and horse racing and of all sport that is spoken of in hushed tones in pubs all over the country. 

We always look forward to our trips to Ireland, they're always different, yet always with the same result - a relaxed feeling of satisfaction and time well spent in good company, a feeling that you're liked - treasured even - and a longing to return. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

Deal - A Great Place To Visit

Deal Town has been listed as one of the top 30 best places to visit for a weekend retreat by The Times newspaper.
The Times commented on the town’s view of France on a clear day and its award-winning High Street as voted by the Daily Telegraph, with a busy Saturday market and numerous bars, cafes and restaurants.
The Times commented on the cottages in Middle Street, Deal
It also mentioned the cottages in Middle Street, a conservation area, just metres from the beach and picked up on Smugglers Cottage in Dolphin Street, a two-bedroom property currently on sale for £249,500.
Deal is known as one of London weekenders favourite places to visit with St Pancras only an hour and a half by train.
The town has recently announced its high speed services to London will continue with new plans to introduce high speed stops in Martin Mill and Walmer.
Deal town mayor Marlene Burnham said: “After Deal won the High Street of the Year award out of the whole country, then to hear that Deal was 17 out of 30, well, what an accolade.
“It’s the real Deal, that’s what they’re getting. It’s splendid news and extremely exciting.
“I’m very interested in tourism for the town and it seems Deal is on the up and up. Perhaps next year, we’ll be in the top three. Well done everybody.”
Peter Jull, chairman of Deal and Walmer chamber of trade, said: “It is pleasing that Deal keeps coming up top in a number of these polls.
“Earlier in the year it was the High Street and now it’s a great place for the weekend.
“Our members will be pleased that their dedication to good customer service has been recognised.”
Broadstairs also made it on to the list, featuring at number 21. The town has been long primed as the next Whitstable with its cliff top promenade and was once described by Dickens as “our English watering-place.”
(With thanks to KentOnline)
 I might add, personally, that Deal is my home town - my family moved here when i was in my early teens and I have many fond memories. It's a warm, friendly seaside town, oozing with history and legend. The ghosts of smugglers, miscreants and rogues still walk the centuries old alleyways, side roads and hidden shanty properties of the town and the pier is still open, accessible and always busy. It offers more pubs per hundred yards than many places in the UK and each of these caters for all tastes and requirements, and, if that was not enough, it has three (yes three) castles along its entire seafront.
Take a trip down and see for yourselves, but if you feel a draught, it's probably not the sea breeze, but the loitering remnants of an ancient mariner or the mischievous shadow of a 15th century smuggler sneaking past.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Bread! Tasty, Healthy - and cheap too!

Beautiful, tasty, healthy - and cheap too!

I have, for some time now been an advocate of making my own bread. Ever since I decided to overcome my fear of the 'alchemy' of turning four ingredients, including water, into something, not only edible, but delicious too, I have loved the process of converting flour, yeast, salt and water into a loaf. In a recent blog, the BBC decided to see not only how tasty and efficaceous a loaf can be, but also how cheap.

David Cameron doesn't know the price of a value loaf from Tesco because he bakes his own bread. Is his way cheaper, asks Denise Winterman.
Asked the cost of a "value sliced white bread loaf at Tesco this morning", Prime Minister David Cameron said he didn't know because he makes his own bread in his £100 breadmaker using flour costing about £4.40 for a 1.5kg bag.

But is the prime minister on to something? If you have a breadmaker and all the basic ingredients at home, can you make a white loaf for 47p or less?

Seeing as it's a Tesco value loaf in question, let's assume all your ingredients have come from Tesco and are the cheapest available.

The workings out

  • Tesco Strong White Bread Flour £0.53 a kg - 30p
  • Tesco Fast Action Dried Yeast £11.61 a kg - 6p
  • Tesco Table Salt £0.39 a kg - 0.4p
  • Tesco Organic Rapeseed Oil £0.30p a 100ml - 6p
Figures calculated to the nearest penny - apart from salt.

Tom Herbert is a fifth generation baker who won Young Baker of the Year and is one half of Channel Four's Fabulous Baker Boys. He says his recipe for a classic white loaf is the most downloaded off his website. It also weighs roughly 800g, the same as the sliced white in question.
According to the recipe you need 560g of strong white flour, 10g of salt (Herbert specifies sea salt but you only have Tesco's cheaper table salt), 5g of dried yeast, 20ml of rapeseed oil and 300ml of warm water.

So does it come in at under 47p? Yes, 42.4p in fact, with the prices of the ingredients (apart from salt) calculated to the nearest penny.

The taste, smell and quality of the homemade loaf will be "incomparable" to the shop-bought one, says Herbert.

"You'll also feel great having made something with your own hands and your home will smell lovely."

I couldn't agree more - and I would just love to see more people making their own loaves. I have written some previous pieces if you'd like a go:

and Here

I sincerely hope you'll have a go. It is fun and worth the little bit of effort and time that are required - I promise.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Land Rovers And Levadas

Levada walks in Madeira

This is a post I wrote recently for a Travel Company...

With the reputation as one of the prettiest islands as well as the most sedate, Madeira has a few surprises up its sleeve when it comes to exploring the its countryside and history. The Portuguese, very rightly, love this little paradise and treasure its calmness, stillness and solitude. Night clubs are few and far between and the tourists most definitely fit into the older age bracket, but on a recent trip, I was able to explore two aspects of the island that may be less well known, getting well off the beaten track and into the beautiful countryside, making some wonderful discoveries and digging up some gold mines along the way.

Naturally, the very nature of the island lends itself to a diversity of flora, terrain and altitude and the million or so tourists that visit over the course of the year come for a variety of reasons, but as soon as I saw the Levada Walks and the Land Rover Safaris, I knew I would have to get out of the town of Funchal and into the hills.

The views from beyond the towns are quite stunning

Levada Walks

As a way to explore the island in a sedate manner and without too many extreme gradients, this is the best!

Levadas are the concrete waterways or aqueducts constructed over the years to supply the southern half of the island with water. There are over 40 kilometres of tunnels, many of which are still accessible today and over 2000 kilometres of walkable levadas around the island, and much of this is easy to walk, eminently accessible by local transport and many can be booked as an accompanied tour by English speaking guides who will share a wealth of information regarding the history, fauna and flora of the island. 

If you prefer, you can explore them alone and many maps of the walks, in easy sections of from 6 to 26 kilometres are available in the tourists centres. As always, it's a good idea to let someone from your hotel know where you'll be and try to choose walks initially, closer to civilisation in case of mishap. Take appropriate clothing too as the mountain mists can close in quickly, but if you stick to the walkways along the concrete levadas it's difficult to get lost. 

Wild Wood Sorrel - in January

Also take care of recent incidents that may have occurred along the way. Out of necessity these water ways are incredibly well maintained, but overnight tree falls and land slips do occur, so just watch your footing around these areas.

As you walk you will see the mountainous regions in all their glory; the bougainvillea and wild thyme, the cacti, mimosa and banana and the eucalyptus as well as all the other wonderful semi-tropical plants that abound on this wonderful island. The name Madeira means "Wood" in Portuguese. 

Other than birds and the odd feral cat, you won't see much fauna on your walks but you will see the farming layers built, in some cases, on shear cliff edges, the care and attention given to preparing the land for crops all year round is still very evident.

Take care as you go but do give them a try.

Stunning views along the Levadas

Land Rover Safaris

As the proud owner of a Defender myself, I just had to give these trips -  bookable almost anywhere - a go.

We booked two excursions; one was an out and out safari on all the back roads around the island, starting at the top of the highest mountain and hitting every puddle, every pothole and every sharp, wicked bend on the way down with stops for lunch (included) and coffee whenever our bones were too shaken to carry on.

The second was a 6 car trip up through the mountains to a linen factory and a local market, two surprisingly cheap and incongruously non-touristy stops as it was possible to experience. Lunch at the market - almost as much barbecued food as you could eat, washed down with the local beer and wine - cost only a couple of euros a head - wonderful value, and a lively local market to look at into the bargain.

Stuck in a ditch - but still immense fun!

 On this trip we also hit pot holes and ditches and yours truly had to get out with the chain saw to help clear the way when we hit a ditch the hard way and during the afternoon our vehicle suffered not one, but two punctures - great fun!

The tiered fields for crops....

The guides and drivers were friendly, helpful and full of mischief. They were accommodating, high spirited - but safe! They knew the limits of the vehicles and the terrain and we felt comfortable in their hands - as comfortable as you can in a Defender.

So if you want to get out and about, explore the island, meet the locals and see the real Madeiran wildlife - just ask your tour guide, your hotel receptionist or your local Tourist Information Office  - and go explore!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014


Still the King - in 74

Until 4th March Ted Heath will be Prime Minister and after that Harold Wilson will lead a coalition government and us through the final few hours of the three day weeks  that have been with us since January.

Manchester United will be relegated from what was then the first division to the second and Alf Ramsey will be dismissed as England Manager after 11 years in charge. Don Revie will take over. And Tom Baker will take over from Jon Pertwee as The Doctor. You can decide which was the most important event of those last two. 

In December Monty  Python will screen its last episode. For a 16 year old boy, the demise of the Python was devastating news, whereas the news that Wilson would win a majority in the second election of the year was less so.

Yes, I was sixteen in 1974 and pretty much all I was interested in was music - and girls - of course.

But, for me, the love of music had just begun in earnest. Last year's release of Dark Side of The Moon, Led Zeppelin IV, Close To The Edge and albums by Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield - these were pretty much all I played - prog rock and rock, but I was still weening myself off  Sweet and other glam rock stars like Bolan and (I'm embarrassed to mention him, seriously embarrassed..) Alvin Stardust.

'Fragile' by Yes had opened my eyes to 'real' music and 'Dark Side of The Moon' - one of the greatest selling albums of all time - became the most played record in my house....until 1975 saw the release of 'Wish You Were Here' which remains my favourite album of all time.

My Mam loved Elvis - who was still King in 1974 - and the Who were a secondary, less favoured favourite band who could not be ignored. Queen were working on their second album, Kiss on their first and Bruce Springsteen was a virtual unknown in the UK. Rush had just released the eponymous first album as had The Ramones and Bad Company, but on the down side 1974 saw the Arrival of Abba.

I find it so hard to believe that this important aspect of my life - all these musical events - happened 40 years ago. I still listen to all these albums virtually everyday, including Daltry's intonation of "Hope I die before I get old" - he didn't - others did! I hear Pink Floyd constantly, in my car my bedroom on my laptop but I daren't turn on the radio for fear of auricular invasion of a more insidious sort - bands who can't play an instrument; stars made for television, but even then every so often a Gary Barlow comes along, from a Boy Band to a songwriter and talent - much to my surprise - who knew he had talent? So not all is lost. 

Will we ever find another Bob Dylan? Probably not - the Times They Have a Changed - for better or worse, but that's ok. I was there at the birth of Rock, Prog Rock and the Talent Explosion of the 70's, and I can still listen to it whenever I like and where ever I like. Too old to die young as the tee shirt says but never too old to listen to, discover or be shown great music. May it always be that way.

So many of my heroes have died, many whom I thought would live for ever - Elvis especially, but with fame comes added pressure in a precious life already full of pitfalls and obstacles. Then, as I grew older and grow older, natural death also takes away my precious stars, superstars and childhood memories. I shall enjoy it all while I can, I will still cry when another hero leaves us and I hope still to be shocked when new talent rises, phoenix like from the ashes of dead TV-made stars and boy/girl bands or completely from the Blue (no pun intended) - another Jake Bugg perhaps or a Laura Marling, maybe an Adele.

But no more Justin Bieber eh?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Green Fields Of France

1914, August 4th - the start of possibly the greatest conflict of modern times - and this year we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of a World War that cost millions of lives and disrupted millions more.

There seems to be an extraordinary interest in the first World War, notwithstanding the anniversary that is now upon us. Many have travelled to Northern Europe for many years to visit the Battlefields and Cemeteries that have been maintained and preserved by local authorities, governments and enthusiasts alike. Whether to trace ancestors, to complete historical studies, to follow the footsteps of colleagues and friends, to re-visit scenes that were the most telling part of a young life or just to stand in awe of the countless white crosses that spread out from the cenotaphs, monuments and gateways - millions more have visited them over the years. The names; Paschendaele, The Somme, Ypres, Neuve Chapel - names we know so well - ingrained on our memories - their lives, our history.

And yet, this year, as we look back on the past mistakes, tragedies and life changing decisions that brought about the Great War still more will flock to France, to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany for a plethora of reasons a myriad of memories and a whole family tree of of lost ancestors. Ask "Why" and you will receive so many different answers that consensus is impossible. Yet we go, we stand, we cry, we lay flowers and we talk in hushed voices as if the sound might still carry to the enemy. Where once guns howled and screamed, firing hot metal to kill, to maim, to eviscerate, to destroy in hurricanes of maddening noise, now silence is the blanket across the fields; quiet words softly spoken, birdsong in the summer, the lowland winds in the winter and a distant hum of traffic.

The grass is green - the mud long gone, the trees are full branched in winter and greenly vivid in the spring, poppies grow freely in summer as if to cry the blood stained tears of the past in red-petalled agony in the corn fields of new life. Yet still silence reigns, the quietness is natural.

If you would like to go to see for yourself the scenes of past battles, the trenches, the towns, villages and rivers and, of course, the cemeteries then you can grab a map, book a ferry or a Eurotunnel train and go off and explore and discover these sights for yourself. 

If you prefer something a little more structured then there are many companies who offer full guided tours to the areas that are of most interest. The War Graves Commission, Saga, Shearings, Battlefields.Com and even the Radio Times all offer guided tours that will allow you time to see and discover for yourselves the sights and history of the area - do some research to find the right company for you.

I hope you do go, but prepare to be moved....

This is a great song, written by Eric Bogle - probably the best anti war song I know of....

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Lessons and Changes

This time last year I was on the wonderful Island of Madeira - a week of warmth, motivation and rest. The break seemed to set me up for the year and left me with some very wonderful memories - you can read about some of it HERE

This year, I feel just as motivated but for several very different reasons. Forgive me if I don't go into too much detail here but I promise to gradually, and tantalisingly release information as and when I feel the time is right. There are many changes happening all at once which can be stressful but I feel that 2014 is looking full of promise and hope - I certainly hope so and although it is early days I do see a good looking year stretching ahead.

I hope also to share more foraging tips as well as recipes, some fishing exploits and some gardening hints that I pick up along the way. I do hope that my readers will continue to watch this space and continue to read my inexpert ramblings, my inadequate grasp of the meaning of life and my ill-advised attempts at witty banter.

A Happy New Year to you all - again.